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Iran: The Reign of Terror
Country Study > Chapter 4 > Government and Politics > Political Dynamics > The Reign of Terror


The dismissal of Bani Sadr on June 21, 1981, brought to a head the underlying conflicts within the political elite and between its members and other groups contesting for power. In the final three months of Bani Sadr's presidency, political violence had intensified as organized gangs of hezbollahis. Although the Mojahedin's uprising was quickly contained, during the following eighteen months the country was in a virtual state of siege as the government used extraordinary measures to suppress not only the Mojahedin but also other opposition movements. The government's fears of the opposition's capabilities were exacerbated by several sensational acts of terrorism directed at regime officials. These included the bombing of the IRP headquarters on June 28, 1981, which killed at least seventy top leaders of the party, including Beheshti, the secretary general of the party, and the chief justice of the Supreme Court; the bombing at the prime minister's office on August 30, which killed several more leaders including former prime minister Rajai, who had replaced Bani Sadr as president, and the cleric Mohammad Javad Bahonar, who was Rajai's prime minister; and the assassinations of several key officials in Tehran and important provincial cities. The government responded to the Mojahedin challenge by carrying out mass arrests and executions. At the height of the confrontation, an average of 50 persons per day were executed; on several days during September 1981, the total number executed throughout the country exceeded 100. Although the government dramatized its resolve to crush the uprising by conducting many of these mass executions in public, officials showed little interest in recording the names and numbers of the condemned. Thus, no statistics exist for the total number executed. Nevertheless, by the end of 1982 an estimated 7,500 persons had been executed or killed in street battles with the Pasdaran. Approximately 90 percent of the deaths had been associated with the Mojahedin, and the rest with smaller political groups that had joined the Mojahedin in the attempt to overthrow the government by armed force.

The efforts to root out the Mojahedin were accompanied by a general assault on procedural rights. The Pasdaran and specially recruited gangs of hezbollahis patrolled urban neighborhoods, ostensibly looking for the safe houses in which supporters of the Mojahedin and other opposition groups were suspected of hiding. They invaded such homes and arrested occupants without warrants. Persons suspected of insufficient loyalty to the regime were harassed and often subjected to arbitrary arrest and expropriation of their property. Extensive purges were initiated within all government ministries, and thousands of employees who failed loyalty tests were dismissed. Complaints were voiced that government agents eavesdropped on telephone conversations and opened private mail to collect information to use against citizens. The courts generally failed to protect individuals against violations of due process during this period.

The reign of terror officially ended in December 1982 when Khomeini issued an eight-point decree that effectively instructed the courts to ensure that the civil and due process rights of citizens be safeguarded. The decree forbade forcible entry of homes and businesses, arrest and detention without judges' orders, property expropriation without court authorization, and all forms of government spying on private persons. Special councils were to be established to investigate all complaints about court violations of individual rights.

Data as of December 1987

Last Updated: December 1987

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Iran was first published in 1987. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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